Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The question of Catholicism

“I would like to ask in all seriousness whether Protestantism can be a real answer to anyone for whom Catholicism has never been a real question – whether we still have any real business with the church of the Reformation if in the meantime we have left alone the counterpart with which it struggled. And I would like to issue a warning of the unhappy awakening which might some day follow such detachment. Those who know Catholicism even a little know how deceptive its remoteness and strangeness are, how uncannily close to us it really is, how urgent and vital the questions it puts to us are, and how inherently impossible is the possibility of not listening seriously to those questions once they have been heard.”

—Karl Barth,“Der römische Katholizismus als Frage an die Protestantische Kirche,” in Vorträge und kleinere Arbeiten 1925-1930, ed. Hermann Schmidt (Zurich: TVZ, 1994), p. 313.

Biretta tip to Ben Meyers over at Faith and Theology.


Thomas said...

Were I an Evangelical Christian - especially of the Puritan/Reformed variety (the term "Protestant" is too linked with the reaction of the 16th c.), I might respond by saying that the positive content of the Gospel, which we embrace, is the real answer to the human predicament. Medieval religion was anti-Gospel on account of its idolatry and legalism. Analogously, the Apostle Paul was a steward of the Mysteries of God, not simply a remonstrator of Christian Judaism.

lexorandi2 said...

Well said, young Padawan. It's a great quote because it shows precisely how "advanced" Barth's Protestantism was for his time, and (I think) how well he understood the implications of his own theology.

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Maybe this is impertinent to what is said here, but I find evangelical Protestantism to be a rather odd creature. I suppose it is very much suited to how people are today. According to one piece of literature that I received from an evangelical group here on campus, all I have to do in order to be saved is get on my knees and accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. When I asked one of the girls handing out the flyer how this is Biblical, she directed me to a passage of Romans, and of course I conceded that her vision could be construed as the right one. But it just seems so out of context. It's as if this form of Protestantism (as opposed to ever rarer magesterial forms) is Christianity minus history. But Christianity is a historical religion, or perhaps better put, THE historical religion.

The Gospel has a power of its own as a written word, and praise be to God for it. But is it enough? Should we expect more from people who are much better educated and have greater access to the sources of Christian doctrine than their ancestors?

Thomas said...


Although there are Evangelicals who take very seriously the history of Christianity, in fact, many of the pioneers of modern historical/critical research in the Bible and the subsequent history of Christian thought were Protestants, I think it is not unfair to describe popular Evangelicalism in a general way as "Christianity minus history". As goes the maxim attributed to Cardinal Newman: "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant". Could this be a consequence of Sola Scriptura? Originally it meant that the Bible, minus Church doctrine, is the individual Christian's infallible and sufficient guide to the meaning of divine revelation. Perhaps it has had the unintended effect of restricting in the minds of many believers the historical medium of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world to the canonical history recorded in the Sacred Text. The later history of the Church would obviously have little or no theological significance in this scheme – except for the ‘end times’, which are described in great detail in the book of Revelation.